Theology under threat

Irish priest academic warns theology “under threat” from “commodification of education”

An Irish priest-professor of theology and religious studies has warned his subject is “under threat” because of “market forces” changing the face of the higher education sector.

Driving the news

Professor Eamonn Conway, of Limerick’s Mary Immaculate College, told The Irish Catholic that “there’s no question” the place of theology in the university is endangered.

Conway – one of Ireland’s leading theologians – said that’s due, in the first place, to the specific demands of the subject matter.

Studying theology “requires a certain level not only of academic interest and competence, but also of human experience”, the academic acknowledged.

But there are also more sinister forces at work, he continued, that have affected not only theology but also liberal arts courses.

“Our universities for the most part are succumbing to the commodification of education, and therefore are simply responding to market forces rather than providing the holistic education context in which theology would be valued”, the academic lamented.

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What’s next

To arrest theology’s decline in higher education, Conway suggested two ways forward: better secondary education and more interdisciplinary cooperation in higher education.

“More can and could be done to engage critical and reflective young people and to demonstrate the reasonableness of religious faith”, explained the professor.

“Many young people still leave school – secondary level education – even from our Catholic schools, somehow of the view that there is an incompatibility between science and religion”, he added.

On the other hand, Conway called it “so important” to “protect” theology “in an interdisciplinary context”.

Not only to demonstrate the reasonableness of faith but also “so that students who might not otherwise choose to put themselves in a learning setting where theology is being taught would encounter it by osmosis or by accident, and be surprised at how it speaks to their interests, yearnings and deepest desires”.

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For the record

Conway’s comments came as Fr. Michael Mullaney, President of St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, downplayed fears that a drop in points requirements for applicants to a theology degree at the College signalled a crisis in the subject’s future there.

Theology is “a very specialised degree, that about maybe two or three or four people take every year”, Mullaney said.

He described theology undergraduates as “always very good students”.

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